One of the new movies, The Bounty Hunter, starred that offscreen love pair Jennifer Aniston and Gerard Butler Jenni-Butt to the gossip rags in a romcom battle of the exes. Another, Repo Men, sent Jude Law and Forest Whitaker cavorting through a high-tech dystopia. The weekend's third big debut, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, boasted no stars, an inexpensive marketing campaign and low expectations from industry gurus. All it had going for it was a popular series of kid-angled novels by Jeff Kinney, who last year was named one of TIME's 100 Most Influential People.
Surprise: dweebs rule! Wimpy Kid showed unexpected appeal and did the best of the new releases at the domestic box office. Its $21.8 million edged The Bounty Hunter's $21 million, according to official studio estimates. With a teacher's-pet A-minus in CinemaScore's poll of exiting moviegoers, the comedy about a bright boy's passage through sixth grade should prove best in class for youngsters over the next few weeks and do well enough to green-light a sequel. (Kinney has published four books in the series, with a fifth due out this year.)
It's a fourth solid showing for 20th Century Fox's moppet movies. With Wimpy following Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel, Tooth Fairy and Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief, Fox has cemented its rep as the tween baby-sitter studio. Paramount's 20-something version of the wimp-hero theme, She's Out of My League, held well with a modest 38.5% drop from last weekend to finish fifth. Together, Wimpy and She's Out of My League could forge a new in-person social network: the nerd date movie.
All these films trailed Alice in Wonderland, whose $34.5 million made it the box-office champ for a third straight week. The fanciful collaboration of Tim Burton and Johnny Depp has earned $265 million in North America and an additional $300 million abroad to become the biggest worldwide hit since Avatar, which is still in the top 10 after 14 weeks.
[Monday update: Final figures for the weekend showed that Wimpy Kid did even better than its estimate, with $22.1 million, while The Bounty Hunter was a bit under its forecaste, at $20.7 million. Green Zone actually earned $6.113 million to finish fifth, ahead of She's Out of My League ($5.8 million) and just a few thousand dollars below Repo Men ($6.126 million). Alice in Wonderland was still the big winner, with a $34.2 million final tally.]
The Bounty Hunter, which was positioned to be the weekend's top newcomer, didn't exactly underperform; its opening was in line with the first weekends of other Aniston and Butler comedies. But with a cruddy 9% score from Rotten Tomatoes' survey of movie critics and a B-minus CinemaScore rating, the film can't expect much repeat business. At least it did better than Repo Men, whose re-poor $6.2 million made it suitable for foreclosure. Shelved for more than two years after its late-2007 shoot, the picture deepened the red-ink bloodbath at Universal, which has suffered from a year of flops, including Green Zone, down a crushing 58% from its dismal opening last week. If Universal were a financial institution, it'd be begging for federal protection. Except that it's less like AIG, more like Lehman Brothers.
Elsewhere in Box-Office Bad News, the weepie Remember Me, featuring The Twilight Saga's gentleman vampire Robert Pattinson, executed a steep (59%) dive from last week's wan debut and crashed into 10th place. Pattinson's Twilight inamorata, Kristen Stewart, is playing Joan Jett in the musical biopic The Runaways, which opened in limited release to a so-so $803,000 on 244 screens. (It's really a supporting role to Dakota Fanning's Cherie Currie.) So far, Pattinson is finding it hard to attract fans when he's not in his giant fantasy-film franchise; in Star Wars terms, he's more Mark Hamill than Harrison Ford. That would make Stewart the new Carrie Fisher. If she's to tread Fisher's path, she'd better cultivate a sassy tongue and learn to write clever, withering books about herself and her mom.
Here are the weekend's top-grossing pictures in North American theaters, as reported by Box Office Mojo.com:
1. Alice in Wonderland, $34.5 million; $265.8 million, third week
2. Diary of a Wimpy Kid, $21.8 million, first weekend
3. The Bounty Hunter, $21 million, first weekend
4. Repo Men, $6.2 million, first weekend
5. She's Out of My League, $6.015 million; $20 million, second week
6. Green Zone, $5.963 million; $24.7 million, second week
7. Shutter Island, $4.8 million; $115.8 million,
8. Avatar, $4 million; $736.9 million, 14th week
9. Our Family Wedding, $3.8 million; $ 13.7 million, second week
10. Remember Me, $3.3 million; $13.9 million, second week